Black beans

Jan 4, 2008 at 1:31 p.m. ET

The common black bean is thought to have originated in southern Mexico and Central America over 7,000 years ago. Black beans are part of the traditional Latin diet of beans, corn and squash.

Black beans are a member of the legume family. Legumes include all types of beans and are high in protein. However, the protein in legumes is called incomplete, meaning it does not contain all nine amino acids found in proteins. When eating legumes, it is always good to eat them with grain proteins, such as corn. The grain proteins provide the missing amino acids and make the proteins complete.

Need to lower your cholesterol? Eat beans!
They are fat-free and rich in fiber. A University of Kentucky study shows that a cup of cooked beans a day lowers blood cholesterol levels by an average of 10 percent. Other research shows that regular servings can improve the ratio of good to bad cholesterol by 17 percent. In addition, beans are a great source of iron, magnesium, and zinc. And they taste good too!

At the market: Black beans can be purchased dried or canned. Dried beans are less convenient. They need to soak overnight and simmer for a long period. Canned black beans are already cooked and ready to use. Buy canned black beans that are low in salt.

Preparation: Place canned black beans in a colander or strainer and rinse in cold water for one minute. This will remove much of the salt used in canning.

Here are a few easy ideas to add black beans in your meals:
Replace half the meat with black beans in any chili, taco meat or lasagna recipe.

Mexican Pizza: Spread a ready to bake pizza crust with salsa and top with black beans, red or green peppers, and corn. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar or jack cheese. Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges.

Simple Side Dish: Saute equal amounts of onions, corn, zucchini, and black beans in olive oil for 5-6 minutes over medium heat. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle lightly with chili powder. Add black beans to chicken or vegetable soup recipe.

Black Bean Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (16 oz each) Mexican style tomatoes with mild green chilies (do not drain)
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz) chicken broth
2 teaspoons ground cumin

Garnishes: Try any or all of these: Thinly sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, cubed avocado, sour cream.

In a medium-size saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes, until the onion is tender. In a blender or food processor, combine the onions, tomatoes and the beans. Process until smooth (this can be done in 2 batches, if necessary). In the medium saucepan, combine the bean mixture, broth, and cumin. Cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve the soup hot, topping each bowl with any or all of the garnishes. Serves 4-6.

Per serving (at 4 servings): 122 calories; 5g fat; 6g protein; 14g carbs; 5g fiber; 0mg cholesterol; 395mg sodium

Black Bean fun facts
The United States is the world leader in dry bean production. Each year, U.S. farmers plant from 1.5 to 1.7 million acres of edible dry beans. 40% of this crop is shipped to more than 100 different countries around the globe. Black beans are the most popular beans in the Costa Rica and Cuba. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1621) listed 64 remedies for gas produced from eating beans.